Laura Moffat and Kelly Sanders Moffat, female founders of Kirrin Finch:, a conscientious clothing company. Both left their corporate jobs to follow their dream as an entrepreneur.
Kirrin Finch, Laura and Kelly are on a mission to meet the needs of a growing demand for gender-defying fashion, by creating menswear-inspired apparel designed to fit a range of female and non-binary bodies.
Like many in RTW and as a small business COVID hit them hard, but by growing a strong community they were able to make it through the pandemic and come out stronger on the other side. Now flash forward and this past summer (2021) they had their best months yet with the increase in weddings this summer they increased their sales over 180% from last year(2020)!
The story about Laura and Kelly’s perseverance through the pandemic and dedication to meeting the needs of a growing demand for gender-defying fashion is a wonderful story of inspiration and we had the opportunity to dive deeper and interview the founders of Kirrin Finch.
What inspired you to start Kirrin Finch?
We started Kirrin Finch because we were frustrated at being unable to find clothing that felt right. We didn’t grow up wanting to be fashion designers. We were both tomboys, and only really cared about making sure our outfits allowed us to ride bikes and climb trees. But as we grew up, it became obvious that mainstream retailers didn’t cater to us. It was always a hunt to find something that felt right, and we were often forced to make the choice between poorly-fitting menswear and super feminine womenswear. The issue came to a head when we were the process of looking for clothes for our wedding that we realized how difficult it is for women like us to find alternative options to a wedding dress. Not being able to find clothes that matched our inner core left us feeling like we were not able to fully be ourselves. And it wasn’t just us. We spoke to countless women, transmen and non-binary folks who felt the same way. So we decided to quit our jobs (Laura was a pharmaceutical marketing consultant and Kelly was a teacher) and start a clothing company that aimed to fill the gap for gender-defying fashion by creating menswear-inspired apparel designed to fit a range of bodies.
We’ve now been in business five years, and we hear time and time again from our customers that finding our clothing has completely changed their relationship with clothes. They feel that they can now fully be themselves and feel confident and comfortable with what they are wearing.
Can you tell us what a normal day looks like for you both as the founders of Kirrin Finch?
Kelly and I are married and also have twin 4-year-old toddlers, so it is definitely a juggling act. There is always the challenge of trying to find the right balance between growing the business and being present for our kids and relationship. Our typical weekday is somewhat chaotic with school drop off and pick up, trying to get as much done in the 9-5 hours and then dinner, bedtime, etc. with the kids. By the time the kids are in bed, we are pretty tired! Covid has also really impacted the predictability of our schedule, so some days one of us may have to take on the role of childcare if the kids’ school closes due to Covid. We really value work-life balance and have made that an important priority for our employees and ourselves, so we want to grow the business and work hard, but not at the expense of our sanity!
Both of us have our respective roles. Laura runs marketing and Kelly runs operations and production. I think we probably spend 75% doing that stuff and 25% playing whack-a-mole for whatever business issue arises that day! It’s always an adventure!
In your own words, what do you do?
Clothing is not just a piece of fabric that you put on your body to cover up. Clothing impacts how we think and feel, the way we perform and act, and what other people think about us. That is why it is so important to have clothing options that match our identity and make us feel comfortable with what we are wearing.
We hear time and time again from our customers that finding our clothing has completely changed their relationship with clothes and also how they present themselves to the world. They feel that they can now fully be themselves and feel confident and comfortable with what they are wearing. We believe that we can positively impact the world by giving people clothing options to feel free to be who they are.
Do you have anything exciting on the horizon that you can tell us about?
We are launching our first ever true outerwear this fall with the release of our premium wool overcoat in camel and navy colorways. It’s really hard to find a good winter coat that is inspired from menswear and has a classic silhouette without getting those cinched belted styles often seen in womenswear.
Kelly – We are planning on releasing a “Mini Me” collection this spring with matching shirts for adults and kiddos. I’m personally super excited about it!
Can you share tips from your past life or professional experiences that helped you start a new business?
Kelly – I worked in education for 8 years prior to starting Kirrin Finch, and even though it is a completely different field, there are still lots of translatable skills. No matter where you land, figuring out how to work with people and problem solve are incredibly important.
Can you share a few tips with our readers regarding business planning?
Do your research. It is not enough to have an idea. Make sure there is a market for your idea and have a solid understanding of the market, the competition and the customer, and what will make your product stand out. Too often I hear people tell me about a business idea and I ask them “who is your customer” and they say “ women aged 25-45”. It feels better to say your customer is all the women in an age group, but your product is not going to truly resonate with all those people. If you try to market to everyone your message will be diluted and not break through the noise of all the other thousands of marketing messages people see every day.
What else should we know about you? What sets you apart from the competition?
For most of our customers, the options for formalwear are limited to expensive bespoke suiting that can take three months to arrive or going to a traditional retailer like the Banana Republic or J.Crew and being dissatisfied with the fit (regardless of whether it is menswear or womenswear).
First and foremost we want to create a safe judgment-free space where people can shop with the knowledge that we see them, we hear them and we are there to help them feel authentic in their clothing. We also aim to represent as many body types as possible, so people can see someone who is like them wearing the garment. Feeling represented and understood is really important. That was one of the reasons we started the company because we never felt represented in fashion. How can you feel good about shopping when you don’t see anyone like you in magazines, online media or in-stores?
We also spent a lot of time and attention on the fit and details of the suiting. We know where our customers’ frustrations lie with traditional retailers. For example, women’s blazers are too short and shapely, men’s blazers are too broad in the shoulders and oversized. But men’s suits have many details that women’s suiting lacks, such as functional pockets, buttonhole details, interior construction and fun linings. The goal was to create a blazer that retains the elements of a high-quality constructed men’s blazer while still looking tailored and flattering to the person wearing it. It took numerous fittings and lots of feedback from customers, but we feel really good about the design and fit of our suits. We’ve had lots of positive feedback and countless numbers of customers have chosen to wear a Kirrin Finch suit to their wedding which is a huge compliment.
What has been the biggest challenge/hurdle you have faced so far?
The pandemic! In February of 2020, we launched our Georgie suiting collection, which was our first concerted effort into the wedding market. We subsequently had our best sales month ever and knew we had hit a great product-market fit, but then in March 2021, Covid takes hold and our sales plummet. It was a tough time and we both wondered if the suiting business would ever be the same. I can safely say 2021 has been gangbusters for us and we cannot keep our suits in stock!
What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
Lots of people have business ideas, but never actually do anything to make them a reality. I’m really proud that we were able to quit our jobs and take a chance on our business idea. I think it is all about momentum, once you have made that leap you’ve set the ship in motion and you can keep moving forward. But the actual leap can sometimes seem so insurmountable.
What have you learned most from entrepreneurship?
You have to expect the unexpected! At the end of the day, you can write business plans, set forecasts, and think you know what you are getting yourself into, but life will always throw you curveballs and you just have to adapt and roll with the punches. Who knows what I will actually be doing in 5 years, but one thing I do know is that it probably won’t be what I had planned for!
Share two pieces of advice for female entrepreneurs/our followers.
- Fire Yourself From Busy Work
As business owners, we want to be in control of every aspect of our businesses. In the beginning, I didn’t want to spend money on someone or something if I felt I could do it myself, but that can be counterproductive when you are trying to grow and scale your business. I have found that if it is not a central strategic task to our business, then someone else can be hired or outsourced to do it. It might seem like you are wasting money when you can do it yourself, but your business will be set up for growth in the long run.
- Find Mentors and Peer Support:
The one thing that keeps me sane as a business owner is a support network. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely and having people to lean on and provide inspiration has been essential for the success of our business. During the pandemic, I joined HeyMama, a group for working moms, and I was recently accepted into the Ladies Who Launch mentorship program. Both of these programs have helped me stay focused on the future and growth of the business. When times are tough, hearing about how others have pivoted or worked through challenges can be instrumental to dealing with the unexpected. It may not necessarily be what you had planned for, but someone else may have gone through it before and they can help guide you in the process.
What has been your key (or keys) to success?
Everything we do starts with the customer. The foundation of our company came from market research we conducted to identity our first product, and it continues to drive us forward in new directions and keep us engaged with our customers today. We regularly receive thank you notes and social media comments from customers telling us how much our brand means to them and has positively contributed to their confidence because of how they feel in our clothes. That isn’t per chance that they say this, it is because we truly understand our customers’ desires and frustrations and always try to solve them.
Tell us about your proudest achievement?
Kelly – Clothing is far more than just fabric that goes on your body. It allows you to express yourself and provide people a little glimpse into who you are. I remember the first time I put on a suit- it was this ah ha moment of finally feeling authentic in how I was presenting myself. I feel so proud that by starting Kirrin Finch, we can give other people that same feeling.
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